The most popular area for viewing Mt. Fuji is in Hakone. The best views can be enjoyed on Lake Ashinoko in which one rides the sightseeing boat to the middle of the lake, and at Owakudani valley from the Hakone Ropeway cable car. However due to volcanic gasses, the area around Owakudani was closed to tourists, and the Hakone Ropeway was not running. The rest of Hakone is not affected.
A trip to the Owakudani valley would have been interesting. From the ropeway station, one walks into the volcanic zone with hot and bubbling sulfurous hot spring pools. And there you can purchase eggs, cooked in the naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur and which are said to prolong one’s life by seven years. It was too bad that we had to miss that. The group will have to come back if they want to prolong their life by seven years.
And so, because of the volcanic gasses, we had to change our itinerary a bit, skipping the Hakone Ropeway for a round trip sightseeing boat ride on Lake Ashinoko. This was our only hope to have a glimpse of Mt. Fuji while in Hakone, Japan.
Though to get to Lake Ashinoko we had to take the Hakone Tozan Railway, Japan’s oldest mountain railway. The railway is special because the trains wind themselves through a narrow and dense forest over many bridges and tunnels, stopping at small stations along the way and changing directions at three switchbacks. A lot of train fans love the Hakone Tozan Railway. The train is photographic.
Upon arrival to Moto-Hakone for the sightseeing boat on Lake Ashinoko, there was a bit of worry that there should be no clouds, allowing us to get a clear view of this great mountain, the most important iconic image of Japan. We have heard that Mt. Fuji is known to be incredibly shy, hiding in the clouds. Our fingers were crossed as we got on the sightseeing boat.
Unfortunately, Mt. Fuji hid the whole time we sailed across the lake. And of course, we were disappointed. Big frowns could be seen on the faces as we gathered inside the ship away from the wind on the boat deck. Our next chance to see Mt. Fuji will be from the Shinkansen when we leave Hakone for Takayama or at the end of our tour from Kyoto to Narita airport. Peggy Prosser the coordinator and guide of the tour tried to cheer the group up with experiencing Japanese chocolates and snack until we reached the Hakone Yumoto Train station to Odawara for the Shinkansen train to Nagoya and then another JR train to our next destination 4 hours away.
The Shinkansen also known as the bullet train, shifted our attention away from the Mt. Fuji disappointment. On the train platform of the Odawara train station where we waited for our train, we saw more than a few bullet trains pass us with high speed. We all got excited to make movies of the bullet train speeding passing us until our train arrived. The trains run at speeds of up to 320 km/h. And the trains are known for punctuality, comfort, and efficiency. Our train arrived on time and we boarded. And we traveled with great comfort. The seats were nice and so were our window views.
Luckily!!!!! while moving forward on the bullet train, Mt. Fuji suddenly showed up from hiding, standing at 3,776 m / 12,389 ft high. It was almighty. We saw him with a snow cap and as a backdrop to some small city/town. We all got very excited and moved to the window that had the clearest view. It was the most iconic image of Japan and not to be missed on any visit to Japan. Others foreigners on the train were equally excited, too that they moved to the same window side to get a picture with their camera. We captured a few great photos. We felt really lucky that we were able to see Mt. Fuji, knowing it now that not very many people who traveled to Japan got to see this amazing mountain.
Now, we could take the joyous heart with us all the way to our next destination, Takayama. We arrived after sunset. Takayama is a city in the mountainous region of Gifu Prefecture. It retains a traditional touch with its beautifully preserved old town. We stayed in the city for two nights. Our hotel had a mix of traditional and modern Japanese style and a hot spring on the roof. Shortly after checked in, we went out to grab a dinner of soba and unwind ourselves in the hot springs before the next day.